NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez, Sabatino, and Fasciale.
Plaintiff Ramon A. Blancas appeals various aspects of a final judgment of divorce ("FJD") entered in this case after eight days of trial in August 2010. Among other things, plaintiff contests the trial court's (1) imputation of income to him for purposes of child support; (2) grant of sole legal and residential custody of the parties' daughter to his ex-wife, defendant-counterclaimant Tracy Kramer, f/k/a Tracy Blancas; (3) denial of unsupervised parenting time with his daughter; (4) change of his daughter's surname; (5) award of counsel and expert fees to defendant; (6) mandate that he purchase life insurance to cover his obligations under the FJD; (7) dismissal of the affirmative claims in his complaint and denial of his request to adjourn the trial an additional period; and (8) equitable distribution of marital assets, including an order requiring him to reimburse defendant for tuition expenses he incurred during the marriage.
For the reasons that follow, we affirm the terms of the FJD, except that we vacate the trial court's imputation of $136,791 in annual income to plaintiff and remand for further proceedings concerning that issue. We also remand for reconsideration of the fee-shifting awards to the extent that they may be affected by final resolution of the imputation issue.
The following pertinent facts emerged at the trial, in which plaintiff represented himself and elected not to testify.
Plaintiff and defendant met in Mexico in January 2004. At the time, plaintiff was living and working as a lawyer in Mexico, his native country, and defendant, an American citizen, was living in the United States and working for a pharmaceutical company in New York. Defendant, then a widow, had been married twice before. Neither party had children from a prior relationship.
The parties married in August 2004. Plaintiff moved to the United States to live with defendant in New York. In April 2005, he became a permanent resident of the United States on the condition that he remain married.
One child of the marriage, a daughter, was born in May 2005. Defendant went on maternity leave and then worked part time for the pharmaceutical company until 2007 when she was laid off. She worked for another pharmaceutical company from 2007 through May 2009 when that firm also laid her off.
Plaintiff, meanwhile, enrolled in an English course at Pace University in September 2004. After he completed that program, plaintiff enrolled in an LL.M. program in securities and derivatives law at Fordham University School of Law in the fall of 2005. He graduated from Fordham in 2007. According to defendant's trial testimony, she financed plaintiff's full tuition at Pace and a portion of his Fordham tuition with her own funds. Defendant testified that she also tried to help plaintiff find a job, searching out career advice and job opportunities.
During their marriage, the parties started a company named "Enable U2." Defendant testified that she worked for Enable U2 for two weeks doing independent pharmaceutical contracting. Defendant initially incorporated the company in New York, and plaintiff later incorporated it in Mexico. Defendant testified that plaintiff set up two Enable U2 bank accounts in Mexico.
According to defendant's testimony, at the time of the marriage, she had a pension and a 401K account worth at least $83,000. At that point, she also had over $10,000 in her checking account and about $5000 in her savings account. Defendant testified that plaintiff did not bring any assets to the marriage.
Defendant testified that plaintiff had requested that she send money to Mexico to support his mother. She stated that, initially, they sent her $300 per month but that just before the parties' separation he "demanded" the payment be increased to $3000 monthly. When defendant was unable to pay that sum, plaintiff asked defendant's parents if they would send the money instead.
Defendant testified that plaintiff ultimately transferred approximately $11,000 to bank accounts in Mexico. Defendant also contended that plaintiff "pressured" her for money so that he could buy land in Mexico. He told her that he was going to use the money to start a business in Mexico, describing it as "some kind of legal advice or consulting business."
The parties purchased a home in Montclair for $240,000 in 2007. After the parties separated, the property went into foreclosure. Ultimately, defendant filed a bankruptcy petition.*fn1
According to the trial proofs, during the course of the marriage, over $83,000 was withdrawn from defendant's pension account and over $127,000 was withdrawn from her checking and savings accounts. Defendant testified that her parents also loaned plaintiff $3500 to prepare and sit for the bar exam. However, as of the time of trial, plaintiff had not taken the bar exam nor had he fully repaid the loan.
According to the trial testimony of defendant and her own mother, plaintiff often did not participate in the daughter's care while the couple was living together. Plaintiff contested that assertion. He presented competing testimony from two acquaintances, who contended that they regularly saw plaintiff together with his daughter and that she seemed to be happy in his company.
In May 2007, plaintiff attempted to obtain a Mexican birth certificate for his daughter, which he did not procure until June 2008. Later that year, in October or November, plaintiff received a permanent United States residence card with no marital restriction.
By the summer of 2007 the parties' marriage had deteriorated. According to defendant's testimony, plaintiff threatened to relocate with their daughter to Mexico. The parties' relationship became increasingly contentious. By May 2008, they were no longer on speaking terms. They separated ...